Posted April 11, 2016:
Cleaning Outdoor Toilets

by Rebecca Atkinson, a former working guest.

"There’s no place I’d rather be than here in Your love." I was reminded of these lyrics from the song, "Set a Fire" one morning when I was a working guest at Madonna House, working at a very daunting task.

The essence of the song is exactly what that one-liner states: I would rather be right here, in the love of God, than anywhere else.

Well, there I was—furiously scraping poop off the insides of a cold, outdoor jon (toilet).

I was tired, my back was sore, and my stomach was upset from something I had eaten earlier that morning.

There were probably a million other places I wanted to be … so many places. A warm beach. Sleeping in my bed. Watching a movie in the comfort of my house. Shopping. Playing my guitar while gazing at a sunset touching the horizon. So. Many. Places.

Yet here I was, poop-scraping away and wondering where God’s love was in it.

Had I asked, a Madonna House staff worker would probably have begun her explanation by telling me that scraping poop from the jon was my "duty of the moment." (No pun intended!)

A significant part of life at Madonna House is learning to carry out the duty of the moment. The duty of the moment is God’s will for the present moment—whatever—he wants for right now.


This includes everything from doing dishes, to chopping vegetables, to making your bed, to going to Mass, to cleaning outdoor jons.

The duty of the moment, according to Catherine Doherty, foundress of Madonna House, is "focusing our whole person—heart, soul, body, emotions, intellect, memory, imagination—on the job at hand."

What it boils down to is loving God through our daily tasks and whatever it is we are doing right now. No daydreaming, wishing we were elsewhere or getting caught up in something else other than what is right under our noses.

The duty of the moment is a prayer, an encounter with God and a practice in doing his holy will.

Catherine Doherty wrote extensively on the subject of the duty of the moment. I could also go on writing about my journey and growth in pursuing the duty of the moment during my ten-week stay at Madonna House, but I’d probably be writing about it till summer.

Instead, I will tell what I started learning from just one duty of the moment, the one I told you about: cleaning the poop, a job I was given early on in my visit.

At that point, I had heard a lot about doing the "duty of the moment." I knew in my head that I was serving others by cleaning the jons. What I didn’t understand was how God’s love or will could possibly be in something so undesirable.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I began to comprehend the deeper meaning.

You see, I grew up going to youth groups and retreats where I heard countless talks about discernment and praying about God’s will.

I was taught every tool in the book about weighing options for the future. I have had an incredible number of people give me advice about planning, hoping, dreaming, and pursuing whatever it is I am to be when I grow up. The world has been telling me to figure everything out so I can be in control of everything.

Frankly, I have been under the grave impression that discernment is for the big things in life and that I need to have it all figured out—going to school, getting a career, getting married—but never was I told that God’s will happens in our day-to-day, menial lives. At least, I could never quite grasp the idea of it.

Prior to my time at Madonna House, I was unaware that God’s will was in the "little" things, too. I thought there was a science to planning one’s life and the only things that are worth discerning are huge, life-changing feats.

But if this is the case, then what is my life but waiting for the next big thing to do or amount to? If I’m simply "getting by" every other day of my life and not being present to what’s in front of me, then when do I think God’s will will come to me?

If I live every day looking to the future, then how am I ever to love anything or anyone in my life?

I strive for holiness, but there’s none to be found if all I’m doing is looking to what’s next and never facing the incredible life God keeps laying out in front of me in the present moment.

So no, cleaning poop off an outdoor jon is not going to end world hunger or terrorism as we know it. No, it didn’t get me a university degree or a career in the federal government. In fact, it didn’t even teach me much about cleaning. (I mean, really, how many of us use outdoor jons on a regular basis?)

But it showed me that if my "heart, soul, body, emotions, intellect, memory and imagination" are totally focused on right now, doing God’s will in the big things will not be so difficult to pursue.

If I’m constantly looking to the future—planning, dreaming, thinking—then what am I left with?

All we have is today, right here, and right now. How am I going to love? What is the duty of the present moment?

Living in the duty of the moment, truly pursuing and desiring God’s will is no easy task. But it leads us to holiness, greater appreciation of the lives we’ve been given and an incredible love of the Father. It also gives us a zeal for life, a daily mission, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

When we begin to see every moment as a chance to love God, life is given a new meaning and worth. As St. Thérèse said, "Everything is grace."


In closing, allow me to quote Jean Pierre de Caussade from his remarkable and life-changing book entitled, Abandonment to Divine Providence. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone on this planet, as it has changed my life in many positive ways.

"No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere?"


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